In a Five to Four Decision, Voting Just Got HarderIn a five to four decision along party lines, the Supreme Court ruled on the controversial Shelby County v. Holder case. The ruling, believed by many sets the nation back decades in Civil Rights, while others see it as the fault of Congress dropping the ball on updating the act when it should have years ago.
The case was brought to court by Shelby County, Alabama, and addressed specifically section 4(b) of the Voting Rights Act. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was a landmark legislation that banned any voting requirements designed to disenfranchise minorities from exercising their constitutional right to vote in elections. Even with the 15th Amendment added to the Constitution, several southern states, and counties and townships in other states were required to follow the Voting Rights Act. Section 4 required use of a formula that has not been rewritten in decades. The case argued that because of this oversight by Congress, Section 5 of the VRA should not be enforceable. Section 5 states that any changes to voting and elections in the covered regions had to receive preclearance from the federal government before implementation.
With this ruling striking Section 4(b) of the VRA, there is no formula the federal government can use to enforce Section 5 of the VRA. This means that the Supreme Court in their decision gutted the act of any authority over the covered regions. States such as Texas and Mississippi already have voting ID requirements in place should the VRA ruling go in favor of allowing these laws in the covered states to go into effect. Texas already announced today that the now required voting ID's would be available free of charge. In Michigan, where the state legislature has cut school funding by over a billion dollars, cash-strapped Buena Vista Schools can now be dissolved. Buena Vista Schools was in Buena Vista township, one of two covered regions under the VRA in Michigan. Legislation has already been introduced to dissolve the district in Lansing, the only obstacle was the ruling of Shelby County v. Holder.
President Obama made a statement shortly after the decision that he was "deeply disappointed" in the decision handed down today by the court. He called on the Senate to immediately begin work to draft a new formula to replace the one just stricken down. Senator Leahy answered that he was already working on the bill. Congress will need to vote on the bill once Senator Leahy introduces it to the Senate. In 2006 the Senate passed the VRA renewal with 98 votes. The House passed it with over 300 votes. With the current climate on Capital Hill however, some are concerned that the Congress we have in 2013 may not be as interested or willing to pass the bill as easily as they did in 2006.
What recourse will there be if Congress fails to do something no other Congress has failed to do in the 50 years of the VRA's existence? It will require the activation of civil rights groups to be vigilant across the country. One point the majority justices made today is that times have changed, and voting discrimination that existed in the south before the VRA doesn't exist now. In 2006 over fifteen thousand pages of evidence was presented to Congress proving that discrimination at the voting booth still existed in the covered regions. With the election of an African American president, and the House of Representatives relentless pursuit of obstructing the White House on everything, many people in the United States are sure discrimination is still alive and well. We still need the Voting Rights Act to make sure everyone in the United States who wants to vote, can vote.
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